Nest Productions’ Derek Drennan on Supporting the Indie Sector


Founded less than five years ago, Nest Productions has already become a trusted production partner in the U.K. Derek Drennan, managing director, set up the company in response to the growing need for high-quality production support in an ever-changing landscape. Drennan shares his views on the state of production for unscripted entertainment and some of the issues around delivering this programming under new commissioning quotas. He also talks about an alternative co-production model that Nest employs.

TV FORMATS: What’s your view on the current state of the production landscape for unscripted entertainment?
DRENNAN: The landscape is very challenging currently, and it’s a worrying time for everyone, including production companies, freelancers and even internally at the broadcasters (let’s not forget them). With the Chancellor announcing a 40 percent tax relief for film and HETV in the new budget, which is amazing, unscripted has been completely forgotten about, which is a massive shame. Shouldn’t unscripted get a tax relief too, which would save a lot of funding issues?

As we are in a commissioning slowdown, fewer companies are being commissioned quickly enough to sustain overheads, and there are a lot of companies having to make redundancies or, even worse, shutting down as a result. With a monumental shift now in linear TV, a lot of companies are in a state of flux while they work out their next move. To me, the ones that aren’t ahead of the curve and are just sitting and waiting for a commission to land as they have done for years are probably the ones who will fail during this time.

Among the madness, it’s an exciting time for telly as we move into this new modern-day world. There are a lot of companies jumping to digital and branded content, which is potentially the future of TV as we know it, and there is a lot more talk than normal about YouTube content. Brand-funded content is tricky; you not only have the brand to contend with but also a commissioner to keep happy, and marrying them both up is a skill in itself. If you can get this right, you can produce some beautiful content. Nest has done quite a bit of this in the past (and is currently doing) where we have supported indies to help navigate this world.

I am also really interested in seeing where AI takes us. I am totally embracing AI for TV, and I think it could revolutionize quickness in production, which saves money—so hopefully that will mean more commissions for everyone.

TV FORMATS: What are some of the issues around delivering unscripted entertainment programming under new commissioning quotas?
DRENNAN: Quite rightly, there is still a big focus on regionality, which I am passionate about. I am constantly trying to push stuff out to the regions, especially in Scotland and the North East, where there are some great funds you can tap into with the screen agencies. But even with the sprinkle of additional funds, it’s still not enough for some commissioners and execs to want to base their productions out of London because of the “lack of talent” in some of these areas. I strongly disagree. I feel that these areas are leveling up massively, and there is some amazing talent in the regions. You just have to know where to go to find them, but these funds will help if you have to train locally, etc. Nothing will ever change unless we take risks on people we don’t know.

TV FORMATS: What was the drive in setting up Nest Productions?
DRENNAN: We are doing what the big group companies are doing, but much more hands-on with a personal touch. I could see a massive gap in the market for small indies that just needed adequate support and production infrastructure. I really take a lot of pride in my team helping small indies and making sure they actually make money and do things right.

I also wanted to create a production company that was honest, reliable and treated people well. My business partner and I would often dream about a place to work where people didn’t shout at you if you got something wrong, which was down to having some really bad TV bosses in the past, as is unfortunately common in this industry.

Now we have created Nest, where we have a very low turnover of staff, we listen to our employees and give them flexibility and feedback, and when things go wrong, we laugh and just help sort it. Things will always go wrong in TV!

TV FORMATS: How does Nest Productions support fledgling, small and new indie companies that need a robust network around them?
DRENNAN: Like a “nest,” we support them with everything they need to grow. That includes a robust head of production team, line producers and production managers but also wrapping our wider teams around them in legal, finance, HR and IT. Oh, and probably some of the best production offices in TV. Essentially, we are a fully-fledged indie, just without creatives.

TV FORMATS: Tell me about the alternative co-production Nest has set up and what Nest lends (and the companies retain).
DRENNAN: It’s really simple. It’s like a co-production but without the hassle. We don’t take ownership of any IP, and we work with our partners often as outwardly facing as them, which makes them look bigger as a company because suddenly they have a big senior production team behind them.

This gives broadcasters and SVODs a big security blanket. In fact, we are often approached by broadcasters now to work with small indies that have an amazing idea, but they may lack the experience or infrastructure to pull it off. Say a small production company lands a commission with Channel 4, but the company only has two creatives working in it and zero infrastructure. We partner with those companies to ensure they have everything they need to make the production safely, on budget, legally and actually make some profit.

It’s so important that especially the newer production companies have an infrastructure in place, because if they don’t, then reputationally no one will want to work there again; they won’t make money and will probably burn out because they have too many hats. So, it’s like a co-production, but better for the companies themselves.

TV FORMATS: Talk to me about how the welfare and duty of care differ for smaller indies.
DRENNAN: There is so much more to welfare and duty of care these days than there ever has been, and I don’t think a lot of the smaller indies fully realize this. For example, we have completed a 78-page welfare document for a new show we have been involved in, which took months and probably about 20 people’s input. It’s absolutely crucial to have the right people working on those sorts of documents.

These days it’s about having welfare teams and psychs available on location on big shoots, whereas only a few years ago, this was a luxury. I feel that contributors are more looked after than ever, but that doesn’t mean to say things don’t go wrong, because we are dealing with humans and inevitably things do go wrong—and that’s exactly why you need an experienced and robust team around you.

Contributors are obviously very important to any production, but the crew and production team often get forgotten about. At Nest, it’s our ethos to care about everyone, and so we ensure that everyone is trained properly, including signposting who they escalate to. I feel like crew and team welfare is crucial to the success of small indies. Simply put, if you don’t look after your teams properly, they will never return. Gone are the days when execs could treat people like crap and expect them to work until 2 a.m. with a smile on their face. It just doesn’t work like that anymore.

Of course, limited resources in a small indie mean that things like welfare are often overlooked, so even more reason to work with Nest—because we take care of that side of things.

TV FORMATS: What advice do you have for new indies looking to get into producing unscripted entertainment?
DRENNAN: I honestly think that 50 percent of getting a commission over the line is an idea first, and the other 50 percent is how you are going to make it and who is the team attached to it. I speak to companies all the time that have been constantly failing to get a commission because they have a great idea but have never made a show like it and there is no infrastructure to support it. Simply put: always bring the A-team to your pitch, such as your executive producer, director/DOP, head of production, line producer. If the broadcasters or SVODs are giving you £5 million ($6.3 million) to make a show, they want to make sure they can trust you with the money—oh, and also someone to blame when they don’t like something, and that needs to be experienced people with a track record.